Making Peace in Greece - Banked to Big Air

Making Peace in Greece by Alexis de Tarade

Three years ago I basically broke up with my snowboard after 20 years of riding. It’s been years since I last strapped in, years since I hucked it, years since I shredded angel poo, and I just let myself slide away into a world of carving, cruising, boozing, and method grabs.

I used to work at Method Mag, living and breathing snowboarding. Now I am a dad, living on a Greek island, hiding in the bosom of mother earth, trying to find a better way to live alongside nature. Recently, I started to get the itch. The itch to get up on top of a snowy mountain and dance from edge to edge again. The itch grew from my toe to the rest of my foot. My mediocre surfing skills, which I had been trying to develop, couldn’t calm the yearning for a good turn on a snowboard. I ended up sitting in front of an entire four-hour broadcast of Natural Selection captured by the drone cams, feeling like an eagle preying over the shoulders of some of the greatest riders. Then I listened in for some long form chats on the bomb hole with some of the greats-Richards, Bozung, Kotsenburg, Magoon, Danny Davis, etc. Then I watched some next level bangers in the new Oasen Vans movie and some new turn porn from Korua. The itchy rash had now spread from my feet to the rest of my body as I wallowed in nostalgia, staring at the snow capped peaks of the islands around us. I needed to find my fix.

 

 

My friend Themis from "The Thing About Greece" was soon throwing a snow jam with the whole local scene in Greece. A big air + banked slalom in Kalavrita, 2.5 hours from Athens. I decided I had to get on a board. The wait had been too long. But these kinds of decisions are no longer just up to me now that I have a family. I can’t simply say "fuck it" and head up.  Just leaving your partner to handle a 2-year-old, even just for a few days, is no easy task. After debate, negotiation, and a little bit of begging, I managed to free myself up for 4 days, solo in the hills. Now I needed to figure out if I even had any gear and how I would get there. You see, the thing about Greece is that you can find yourself catching a boat to go snowboarding if you live on an island.

I managed to find a beanie, but lost it just before I got on the boat that was headed for Athens. I boarded nonetheless, knowing we would be able to sort something out. On board the boat, I found myself in a world paranoid of a virus and war. The traveling soldiers and mask-covered faces were reminders that we are living in weird times. My boat reached the port of Piraeus by midnight, and I found a hotel near the boats. My COVID pass was not even working for whatever reason, but the good man still let me head to bed.

 

 

I awoke with my eyes fixed on the mountains and my mind set on snowboarding, my shoes still sand-filled from the beach. I tried to shake the sand out of my shoes on the balcony that was showered in sunlight. I looked down on the city from my bird's eye view. I scanned for trees, but there were none in sight. This made me a little anxious, like an animal in a cage. I could see the people below in the street scrambling to ready themselves and their shops for the incoming day.

I eventually made my way down to ground level and observed the people from the city with the same wonder one observes animals at the zoo. They were so much different from the creatures on the island; stern, mechanical, silent and staring at their phones.

Alexis back on course.

 

 

I met up with my ride that would take me to the resort. Things started to get silly, dancing to bad and better tunes from the past. This started to feel like snowboarding. We were leaving the box of daily life behind as we headed for snowy hills with foggy peaks. Themis had my back with everything head to toe, including my snowboard, which I left with him 3 years prior.

The morning was upon us, and we had to go set up the event. I found myself feeling like a super hero returning to his old duties as I slipped into my stripped Airblaster ninja suit first layer, put on my outer layer, laced up and stepped out. I was immediately reminded of the misery of snowboard boots, the misery of the cold, all while laughing at the absurdity of the weather we were experiencing: rain, heavy snow, and hard winds. Conditions were going to be far from perfect for a big air jam. I realized a while ago that nature doesn’t like events. The crew collaborated in the storm and got the jam rolling despite our vision being swallowed by the elements and lost in time.

 

 

I helped set up the judges' tent while fresh powder across the valley stared at me, luring me. I slipped off before we got started and put some turns in the heavy Greek yoghurt. It was all there still. The reflexes, the skills, the spills, and the joy. I even found some little feta wedges in the park that let me get off the ground and send a method like the good old days. I reached for my board and cranked it. The hinges on my old used joints creaked like the doors of a haunted house, but I still had it. I can still carve powder and send straight airs! I was a happy 40 year old snowboarder.

The real heros were the riders that had the nut sack to hit the big air jump. Calculating the wind and low visibility was not an easy task. Some misjudged the distance eating knuckle sandwiches while others over shot to flats. I sat under my shaky tent that barely sheltered me from the spitting storm. My score keeping papers were soaked, the walkie-talkie informing the dropping riders was not totally working, and then a drone crashed into my seat. Pure chaos. Pure snowboarding.

 

 

Throughout the event, I observed the riders that had gathered. Some old faces and many new ones. This wave of new riders was a relief to see. There was a crew of new video nerds and photo heads snapping away. The organizers were juggling all types of issues, but they were making it happen. Themis, the head of the event, had his head scrabbled and hard boiled at this point, but was yelling hype on the mic and free-styling none-sense when some entertainment was needed if a cloud settled and caused the riders to wait.

This event was snowboarding, in the sense that it wasn't a serious contest. The next day was the costumed banked slalom and we were going for good times and the funniest costumes. The riders that came for speed and a serious competition were reminded of the reality of the event as they were smashed with snowballs, often in the face or the crotch, at the finish line. I borrowed some goggles and decided to speed tuck through the course to see what kind of time I could put up. I swerved my way through the course, pointing it in the straights, and was then pelted with ice balls at the finish line. It felt like I was getting punched up. It felt great, a sort of cathartic fight club feeling. Side jams like snow skating, the highest hippy jump jam, and constant snowball fights kept these overgrown teenagers entertained while they worked towards their main goal of making their friends laugh. The winners were showered with beer. Apres-event beatboxing, Greek dancing, and the Stinky Sock movie made for good times.

 

 

The jam was small but attracted the infamous Stinky Sock crew from Bulgaria. They were not too thrilled about sending it off the windy kicker, and mostly jammed the jib line. Dimo still managed to tie for 3rd on the big air. Not bad for a jibber. And on the day of the banked slalom, he managed to get 1st place despite riding a broken board and falling once on his run. I guess he’s not just a jibber. He's an all-around killer.

On the last apres, I overheard the words "snowboarding is dying". I know what the person meant, but as long as there are people like Themis and the Stinky Socks crew, people can gather around, keep the fire burning, then it’s still breathing. They can’t be the ones holding the hot potato forever, but if you love snowboarding, step it up and take the torch for a bit, organize a jam, form a crew, film a movie, or at least get out to a local event. If money is an issue, remember that Greece is cheap compared to other places. People will welcome you with hugs and souvlaki. Don’t be shy and you will find friends and good times quickly with someone who is probably called Giannis, Nikos, Giorgios, Vassilis, or Christos.

At the end, I headed home on my boat with a sore back and a wind-burnt smile, staring at the sunset over the sea. Snowboarding, it was good to see you, old friend.